2015 Oscar Films vs. the Bechdel Test

The Oscars have crept up on us again and I have finally managed to see (nearly) all of the front runners this year. As I chowed down more choctops than Charlize Theron prepping for Monster, I made it my civic duty to keep tabs on what the female characters in each film were doing. This is my attempt to see how many of 2015’s (or ’14’s, really) biggest films pass the Bechdel test.

1. There must be two named female characters
2. They must talk to each other
3. About something other than a man

Easy, right? Piece of absolute pure piss, right? Let’s throw to our nominees.

American Sniper (Fail)

Ah, give me a moment here. This film is set in a world where a woman is either a calm American mother, a screaming Iraqi mother or a silent blurred token face in the background at the army camp (I counted fewer than three). Sienna Miller plays the backgroundless woman who apparently had resided in a cocoon under the bar until her mid-20s, crawling out to be accosted by a seal with a jaw problem and for her life to truly begin.

It seems the only thing needed to be a female character in this film is a healthy uterus and a hell of an international calling plan. Does she have a job? Who cares! Does she have any aspirations besides from being a mother and talking on her phone to her husband? Don’t be stupid! We don’t have time for that! Look, another nasty bloody foreigner is coming! Shoot!

Whiplash (Fail)

Now here’s a story, of a yelly teacher, who was a bringing up a man with bloodied hands. You can’t pretend that this is anything other than a movie about the relationship between two men. There are two minor female characters who are named (let’s call them Temporary Squeeze and Terse Aunt for now), but they do not speak to each other. Temporary Squeeze Nicole seems to tear Andrew’s world apart via her very presence. Isn’t it a bloody pain when your girlfriend wants to hang out with you?! He needs to focus and work hard on breaking that glass drumming ceiling. As for his classmates, it’s an absolute sausage fest. It’s actually called Whiplash because there are so many weens flying around the music school at any given moment. Drumroll please… fail.

Theory of Everything (Pass)

The universe is expanding, a movie has passed the test. There’s Jane and her mother Beryl, who have a riveting conversation about drinking tea and joining the church choir. It only happens once, and is an excellent reminder that women can be just as amusingly mundane as men if you just GIVE THEM THE CHANCE TO BE. There is also a scene where Stephen’s mother also takes a (patronising) interest in Jane’s own academic pursuits, but I don’t think she is named in the film so that one might just fall into a black hole. Heads up to filmmakers: one chat over a cup of tea is enough, but also try harder because some of us don’t even like tea.

Selma (Pass)

Seems obvious that a movie so steeped in the pursuit of equality should pass the test. We see a glimmer of the women’s experience in Coretta King’s unfeigned pep talk with Amelia Boyton, a fellow civil-rights protestor. Here they talk about their shared fears, heritage and power – with no men in sight. Truly, I’m a little disappointed that Oprah didn’t get an onscreen lady chat, seems deeply unnatural for her to not be dishing out advice and free promotional muumuus in any given setting. Anyway, shout out to Selma.

Grand Budapest (Fail)

With the only prerequisite for this movie’s casting being that you must be able to grow a luscious and dense moustache, I’m not surprised in the slightest that it lacks women. Tilda Swinton plays a hell of a female corpse, alive for just long enough to flirt with Ralph Fiennes and do not a lot else. Saorsie Ronan plays a charming manic pixie dream baker with a birthmark, who talks about loads of things but only to men. None of the women talk to each other at any point in the film. Basically, you have to suspend your belief to a world so whimsical that half the population on earth ceases to exist as we know it. Way to go, Wes.

Gone Girl (Pass)

Gone Girl is a pass as well, luckily most of the chat in this film revolves around the titular Gone Girl and therefore can’t be just men on men on men. Before she gets Gone, Amy has some heart-stoppingly interesting conversation with her mother about why she isn’t wearing white at her party. It is later revealed that this will upset her fragile father. Bit of a grey area to be honest, the man is still the end game of the conversation.

When Amy is on the run (spoiler alert, sorry), she meets bandanna’d raggamuffin Greta, who chats poolside about all sorts. The heat. The store. The sunglasses. Then Greta robs her, sure, but she was damn sure she got their conversation over the benchmark first. The Detective Rhonda Boney also spends loads of time talking to Amy’s fake (slash real) best friend Noelle. A good tip might be to put Girl in the title of your film – sets it up for success [Hanging out for the bonza box office Bechdel of Girl Sniper then – Ed.].

The Imitation Game (Fail)

I was timing this one, we nearly make it to the 30 minute mark before a woman even says a goddamn word. Thank god for Keira bursting in at 29.56 or I would have seriously sent some serious code to someone. And don’t give me that shit that “ohh it’s a different time”. There are at least three women featured in scenes before her, and they all remain as silent as German submarines.

Keira as Joan Clarke is a beacon of hope as a crucial code-cracking character, but is still not enough to pass without any other named women. I did some enigma code research myself and turns out she is actually represented pretty inaccurately. She was not forced to live in the women’s quarters at Bletchley and was actually moved out on day two to a desk right next to Turing in Hut 8 where she remained. Looks like there’s more to decode in this movie than meets the eye.

Boyhood (Pass)

Yes yes yes! 100 times yes! Maybe it takes 12 years making a film to actually flesh out some goddamn decent female characters. Congrats Linklater, you pass with flying colours. We have named female characters almost coming out of our eyeballs, nearly. Samantha! Sheena! Catherine! Mason’s Mum Olivia has her fair share of troubles with men, but she talks about everything else in the world with anyone and everyone. We see her body change over years – we see her skinny, we see her pregnant, we even see her *turns off all the lights and holds torch to face* aging. An even-handed celebration of life and all the people in it, including women. Cheers Linko, you get a gold star and a glowing endorsement from Nigella.

Foxcatcher (Fail)

Two females appear on screen in this movie, in cavernously separate scenes, and do not talk to each other. I actually don’t think Vanessa Redgrave says more than three words all up. Sienna Miller reprises her groundbreaking role as seen in American Sniper of “dutiful wife wearing sweater”. She appears in about five scenes that I can recall (full disclosure: I did go to sleep for an extended period of time during the film, but I’m assured they didn’t hold an all-female MUNA convention whilst I was dozing off). Another film set in a world where no women exist apart from mothers. Steve Carrell’s mother? She says about three words then dies. Classic women eh. Always talkin’ and dyin’.

Wild (Pass)

Yes! I know it’s not nominated for Best Picture but it will do! Reese Witherspoon’s character has endless conversations about LIFE and HAPPINESS and NOT JUST MEN with several other women in the movie. Her mother gallivants around in overalls, a picture of pure joy without her abusive husband. She meets a fellow female hiker who looks at cows with her, you know chicks dig talking about cows eh? She meets an old woman walking with her grandson. In flashbacks, we see her close friend try to save her from her own destruction. Yes! This is what the world is like! Not such a wild idea after all.

Birdman (Pass)

This is a bloody tricky one to be honest. We have the rare treat of having five main female characters to three males, and yet somehow I’m not entirely sure it’s a pass. From memory, one of the conversations between Laura and Lesley centres around her trying to figure out if she’s made it on Broadway or not. Which is enough, but it’s crammed right in the middle of man-chat sandwich, and followed by a random bout on girl-on-girl kissing. I’m sure there’s some wry commentary in there, this film is just too bloody smart to not know what it’s doing. Congrats on having your Bechdel pass hinge on one conversation, you scrape a pass by a few hairs of Michael Keaton’s head merkin.

So there we have it, the majority of the Oscar movies (that I managed to see) ran rings around the Bechdel Test. Well, maybe not so much rings as just one weak orbit, collapsing as soon as the bare minimum was achieved like a first year student with a pub quiz to go to right after their last exam.

But hey, it’s a good sign of things to come, maybe one day the Oscar will even get boobs on it! Maybe Sienna Miller will say more than three words in her next film! Tune in on Monday to find out.

Flicks will be live-blogging the Oscars ceremony this Monday afternoon. It will be entertaining and thorough we promise. See the full list of nominees here.